This year’s International Day of Forests focuses on the importance of water. At FSC, we have always considered water to be an important part of responsible forest management. Without it, no tree could ever grow; in fact no life could be sustained at all. The benefits of water go beyond the forest too: did you know one-third of the world’s largest cities obtain a significant proportion of their drinking water directly from forested areas?

As the life-source for all things, water is the most precious commodity of any forest. Forests act as natural reservoirs and purifiers for water, but to keep the area thriving there is a real need for the right kind of human intervention.

The good news is that water supply can be managed just as carefully as any tree in the forest. For the people that live and work in forests, this is a vital skill that deserves to be acknowledged.

Consider, for example, the need to protect water courses, so that water can flow through the forest without disturbance and out to the nearby communities who depend on it. Or, consider the need to document the provision of clean water by measuring water purity levels over time. All of this is ongoing, challenging work, and right now hundreds of forest managers and communities are doing it as a labour of love.

Community-led water supplies

In this video, you can meet the farmers who began a reforesting programme in Lombok, Indonesia after illegal logging destroyed their land. Through following good forestry practices, the community have put in place a clean and stable water supply, which is directed to the thousands of homes in surrounding areas.

The community carried out this work because of its love of the land, and its compulsion to help others. But very quickly, WWF joined forces with local governments and water companies to make sure that a regular income was received by the farmers for maintaining this water supply. FSC has joined the project too, to help the community monitor and measure its water quality. This will help the community gain new customers for its water, while also helping it to regulate the service it provides.

Across the world, forest workers and farmers like these should be rewarded for managing their ecosystems more effectively. I’m pleased to say that FSC, and its partners, are doing great work to ensure that becomes reality.

Back in 2011, FSC launched the ForCES project with the UN. Fast forward to 2016, and we are now preparing tools that outline how these ‘ecosystem services’, including water, can be measured and maintained.

As part of our work to maintain forest ecosystem services, we want to incentivize land owners and forest managers to maintain non-timber forest assets such as water, carbon, food and soil. By doing this, we think the true value of forests will be better reflected. And for the forest owners and managers, these activities will bring in new revenue streams.

Where does the money come from? With ecosystem services, payments are made by the immediate beneficiaries, principally companies and governments, wanting to protect against land degradation or natural disasters. It is a process that considers the true value of forests, and ensures that the work needed to maintain them does not grind to a halt.

In the near future, I expect to see stories like Lombok’s become commonplace around the world. We must not take our water for granted, and from FSC’s perspective, managing this resource is a central part of our mission.